Funding cuts force LaFayette library to close on Saturdays

Funding cuts force LaFayette library to close on Saturdays

July 13th, 2011 by Andy Johns in News

Lecia Eubanks, assistant director of the LaFayette Walker County Public Library, reshelves books in the children's section. Staff File Photo

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Officials in the Cherokee Regional Library System told the system's board Monday they will close the LaFayette-Walker County branch on Saturdays beginning Aug. 1 to compensate for funding cuts.

"If the money doesn't come up to meet the services, the services have to come down to meet the money," said Lecia Eubanks, director of the library system that oversees public libraries in Walker and Dade counties.

The Rossville branch could be next, Eubanks explained, with plans to close that building on Saturdays beginning Jan. 1.

Since 2008, the system has seen its state funding cut by 43 percent. While some local agencies are contributing a few thousand dollars more, Eubanks said the funding doesn't keep up with rising costs.

Most notably, the Trenton City Commission planned to cut the library out of this year's budget before scrambling to find $30,000 to keep it open. But they said the library shouldn't count on the money in 2012.

The system is in the middle of construction projects at the LaFayette and Trenton libraries, but those expansions are financed through state programs with matching local dollars that can only be used for capital improvements and not operating expenses.

Eubanks is not the only local director grasping at diminishing funds.

The Dalton-Whitfield Public Library announced earlier this month it also will be closing an extra day a week, shuttering the doors on Mondays.

Joe Forsee, director of the Northwest Georgia Regional Library System, said the state cut $90,000 and Whitfield County trimmed its support by $26,000 in this year's budget.

"Funding cuts for public libraries are not new, but this year's cuts are more severe than ever," he said in a news release. The system also is furloughing positions and freezing vacancies.

Some of those measures already are in place in Walker and Dade counties, where financial strain is not new for the system. Over the last several years, employees have seen their salaries frozen and their hours cut. The staff has limited the purchase of new books and technology.

"There are no hidden reserves, there's nothing to save this library but local support," she said. "This is the year I'm afraid we can't continue."

Libraries around the state are taking major hits. The Hall County Library System in northeast Georgia closed two branches July 1 because of funding cuts, according to the Gainesville Times. In April, Cobb County officials discussed closing 13 of 17 libraries in the county, before shifting cuts elsewhere after public outcry.

"Everybody is dealing with that," said Gordon Baker, president elect of the Southeastern Library Association and dean of libraries at Clayton State University. "It's a bad time."

But Eubanks said she is hopeful the closures will be temporary. She is working with the Georgia Department of Labor to see if the LaFayette-Walker branch would qualify for a department program that gives money to temporarily hire two local residents put out of work by April's tornadoes. She's also lobbying Walker County Commissioner Bebe Heiskell for a dedicated percentage of the county's property-tax millage rate or a flat fee tacked onto property taxes.

Heiskell said she had not yet determined the best way to pay for the county's book collection, but said there was significant pressure to keep taxes low.

"I am listening to people who don't want to pay any more money for anything," she said. "People who are out of work don't want to hear about a library."